Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tales of a Former Dark Lord, Chapter 2: A Brush with Stardom and the Bek Base


Big Fat Disclaimer: I do not own Knights of the Old Republic or Star Wars.  That honor belongs to BioWare and George Lucas.  The only part of this story that’s mine is the character of Brinna Warrim.  All other characters are the creations of the genius developers of BioWare, as is some of the dialogue in this story, which I lifted word from word from the game.  I lay the blame for my obsession squarely at their feet.  :) 

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            Brinna woke slowly the next morning.  She felt incredibly rested, which made her frown.  She opened her eyes and saw Carth sitting on the other side of the apartment.  He was staring in the general direction of the door but didn’t seem to be focused on it.  Feeling slightly guilty, Brinna studied him for a moment, allowing herself to tune in to his emotions.  They were a jumble of guilt, sorrow, and anger and she suddenly remembered what had happened between them the previous night and turned away from him.  It wasn’t right for her to infringe on his privacy like she had, she decided; however, that didn’t mean that she intended to stop trying to get him to tell her why he had the trust issues he had.
            She turned her gaze away from him and purposefully made some noise so that he would know she was awake and would have a moment to collect himself.  Pushing her disheveled hair out of her face, she rose from the bed and stretched before speaking to him.
            “Why didn’t you wake me last night?  You haven’t had a wink of sleep,” she said, in a gently accusatory tone.
            “I don’t sleep much,” was his terse reply.
            “Listen, Carth, I’m really sorry about last night.  I didn’t mean anything by what I said.  I mean, after the conversations we had all day, I just figured…” Brinna trailed off lamely.  She could not think of how to say what she wanted to say and she felt pretty foolish even trying.
            “It’s not your fault,” he said, softly.
            “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I just hope I didn’t offend you,” she said, meeting his gaze directly.
            “You didn’t,” he said, gazing steadily at her in return.
            “Oh, okay.  Well, good,” she said.  She was exasperated by her own feeble attempts to talk to him so she turned away from him and moved over toward the window, looking out at the upper city as she finger-combed her hair and then pulled it back.
            “We need to figure out a way to get into the lower city today,” Carth said, his tone suddenly all business.  “There’s a guard at the elevator door.  No one gets by without the proper clearance.”
            “You know, I’m thinking I’ll look pretty spectacular in that Sith uniform,” Brinna mused, turning back to face him once again.
            “What?” he asked, staring at her in disbelief.
            A slow smile spread over her face.  “Don’t you think so?”
            “I don’t know what to think right now,” he told her, studying her suspiciously.
            She laughed.  “Relax, Carth.  I’m thinking that once I put that Sith uniform on it will be clearance enough to get us past the guard at the elevator, don’t you?”
            Comprehension dawned on his face and he suddenly smiled in return.  “Ah, very clever,” he told her.
            “See, I’m good for something once in a while,” she told him.  She was very relieved and very glad to see him smiling again.
            “Yeah, I guess you aren’t as useless as I thought,” he said, grinning mischievously at her.
            “Puh-lease.  If it weren’t for me and my amazing flirtatious powers we wouldn’t even have that uniform, flyboy.”
            “Oh, right,” he said, rolling his eyes.  “I forgot how hard it was for you to sweet talk that Sith.”
            “Well, thanks a lot!  Here I was thinking I’m oh so irresistible and you’re telling me that Sith was just desperate and that’s why he was so quick to cozy up to me.”
            “If the shoe fits…” Carth said, and she could see that he was holding back a laugh.
            “Need I remind you that you’re the one who referred to me as ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ yesterday?” she asked, haughtily.  She was very gratified to see that she had managed to pull him out of his melancholy mood.  He seemed to be enjoying himself and, in her opinion, the man was desperately in need of a good time.
            “Yeah, well, don’t let it go to your head,” he told her.
            Brinna felt herself blushing slightly.  She had expected some sort of smart aleck comment in return, not a renewal of his original compliments.  Carth turned a bit red as well and seemed suddenly conscious of what he’d said.
            “We’d better get going,” he said, turning away from her to gather his equipment.
            “Yeah, you’re right.  Besides, I’m anxious to model that fabulous Sith uniform,” Brinna said, doing her best to change the topic and dispel some of the awkwardness that had suddenly cropped up between them.
            They made their way out of the apartment without incident and wove through the throngs of people walking through the upper city.  They stopped by the medical facility to stock up on some medpacs before attempting to gain entrance into the lower city.  As soon as they stepped into the place, Brinna could sense the nervousness that was rolling off Zelka Forn in waves.  He gave them some information about the rakghoul disease that was plaguing the undercity and expressed his wish that he could get his hands on some of the serum that the Sith were hording.  Brinna was not offended when she promised to do her best to get some and he snapped at her in return.  The Sith made everyone on Taris jumpy.
            However, this was not the true source of Zelka’s nervousness and Brinna knew it.  He stumbled over his words and was rather evasive when Brinna asked him if he knew anything about the crashed escape pods.  She knew instantly that this was the true source of his nervousness and she was finally able to coax his secret out of him: he had several wounded Republic soldiers hidden in the back of the facility where he was doing his best to treat them.  Brinna gazed sadly at the wounded soldiers as Zelka informed them of the severity of the men’s wounds and Carth expressed his gratitude that they were at least in compassionate hands.
            As they left the facility, they were stopped by Gurney, Zelka’s assistant.  Brinna disliked him instantly.  He glanced around shiftily before whispering to her that Davik would make it a lot more worth her while if she were to turn the rakghoul serum over to him.  She glared at Gurney with unconcealed disgust as she told him that she would be giving the serum to Zelka. 
            “It’s unconscionable,” Carth said, shaking his head in anger as they continued on through the city.  “I don’t know how men like Davik can sleep at night.  How could anyone get rich off the suffering of others as he does?”
            “I’d rather not think about it,” Brinna told him.  “I really would rather not understand the depths of that sort of depravity.”
            “This planet seems full of it, doesn’t it?” he asked.
            As if to prove the truth of his words, they were suddenly accosted by a drunken trio who derisively referred to them as “shlummies.”  Brinna took a deep breath and did her best to keep her temper in check.  She decided that the best way to deal with them was to play along with them and so she offered to buy them a drink.  To her relief, her offer met with a favorable response until one of the men reminded the other two that they were late for something and needed to get going.
            Not ten minutes later they ran into a man by the name of Gorton Colu who was spouting off about the aliens on Taris, using every invective in his limited vocabulary.  Brinna openly expressed her disgust with him and Carth almost had to haul her bodily away from the man.
            “You’re not very good at this not drawing attention to yourself stuff, are you?” he asked her.
            She sighed and made a face.  “No, I guess not.  I just can’t stand people like that.  I can’t resist the temptation to put them in their place.”
            “Your open-mindedness and sense of justice are admirable but you really do need to watch yourself.  We don’t want anyone making any unnecessary trouble for us,” he gently admonished her.
            “I know.  I’m sorry,” Brinna said, contritely.
            “Don’t be.  Just try to control that temper of yours,” he said, smiling at her.
            “I’ll try,” she promised.  “Now wait here a second.  I need to go find an inconspicuous corner so I can put this Sith uniform on.”
            “Right.  I’ll keep watch.”
            Brinna found a hidden spot and looked at the uniform with distaste for a moment before putting it on.  The last thing she wanted was to be mistaken for a Sith and now here she was posing as one. 
            Whatever it takes, she thought, with a sigh.
            “Come on,” she said, as soon as she reached Carth.  “I don’t want to have to wear this thing any longer than absolutely necessary.  I can’t even describe what it smells like in here.  I think a bantha last wore this uniform.”
            Carth laughed and Brinna smiled in spite of herself.  Of course, he couldn’t see it as her face was concealed by the helmet, which was about two sizes too large for her.  Her efforts paid off, though.  The Sith guard bought the ruse and even made a point of warning her to be careful down in the lower city, reminding her that the swoop gangs pretty much had the run of the place.
            They may be scum but they still rate higher on my list of admirable creatures than you do, Brinna thought as she saluted the guard and moved into the elevator.  As soon as they reached the undercity, Brinna found herself another obscure corner and changed out of the uniform.
            “I’d rather kiss a Hutt than wear that thing again,” she muttered to Carth as they moved out into the corridor.
            “I could probably arrange that, if you’d like,” he said, amused.
            She opened her mouth to retort but it seemed that they had stumbled upon a little tiff between some members of the Hidden Beks and the Black Vulkars.  It did not appear to be the Beks’ lucky day and the Vulkars made short work of them before turning their attention to Brinna and Carth. 
            Fabulous.  When will we learn to stop walking into the middle of things? Brinna wondered as she swung her vibroblades and proceeded to slice and dice her way through the Vulkars.
            “Well, that was fun,” Carth said, wincing and clutching at a wound on his right arm.
            “Here,” Brinna said breathlessly, tossing a medpac over to him before using one herself.  “We’re like a magnet for trouble.”
            “Speak for yourself.  My life was simple before I met you,” he told her, rolling his eyes at her.
            “And a lot more boring,” she responded, sweetly.
            “True enough,” he admitted with a smile.  “But I could probably do without all this excitement.”
            Sure you could.  You thrive on it,” she told him.  “Stick with me and there’ll never be a dull moment.”
            Her words proved to be prophetic as the moment they walked into Javyar’s Cantina they ran into yet more excitement in the form of a very short man named Calo Nord, who made short work of three Black Vulkars.  This must have been a pretty commonplace occurrence because the people in the cantina barely looked up as Nord obliterated the Vulkars.  As he stepped out of the cantina, Nord cast a glance at Brinna and she felt a chill in spite of herself.  He looked rather small and insignificant but Nord obviously had no qualms about killing when it suited him.
            “That was quite a show,” Carth muttered.
            Brinna nodded her agreement and, with one last glance at the dead Vulkars, made her way into another room in the cantina.  A band was playing on a small stage and there were a couple of Twi’lek dancers gyrating to the obvious pleasure of the observers in the room.
            Men, they’re so predictable, Brinna thought, rolling her eyes.  She was about to turn and walk right back out of the room when one of the men in it caught her eye and began talking to her.  It turned out that he was the Holdan that Dia had spoken of the previous day and it did not take long for Brinna to understand why Dia had used her vibroblade against him.  He was every bit the pig Dia had declared him to be and Brinna was quite proud of the restraint she exhibited in talking to him.  Carth didn’t seem to be too fond of Holdan either and Brinna decided she had best wrap up business with Holdan as quickly as possible before either she or Carth did or said something they might regret.  She was able to convince Holdan to lift the bounty on Dia’s head in exchange for 200 credits and she blew out an angry breath as Holdan left the room to tell Zax to lift the bounty.
            “Am I wearing a sign or something?” Brinna asked a confused Carth.
            “What are you talking about?” he asked.
            “Oh, I don’t know.  I just feel like the words ‘Attention slimeballs: please hit on me’ must be tattooed on my forehead or something.”
            Carth laughed at her.  “You do seem to have a knack for attracting their attention.”
            “I’m glad you find this so funny,” she told him, impatiently pushing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes.
            “I’m sorry,” Carth said, not looking the least bit sorry.
            “You’ll get yours in the end, I promise you,” Brinna grumbled.
            Carth smiled and opened his mouth to reply to her but his attention was attracted by something else in the cantina and his smile changed to a frown.  “Come on, let’s see what’s going on over there with that Twi’lek girl and those Rodians,” he said.  Brinna saw his grip on his vibroblades tighten.
            It seemed that the Twi’lek didn’t need their help, though.  Even though she smarted off to the Rodians, who were less than pleased, it turned out that she had a Wookie as a companion.  Brinna couldn’t help but smile and shake her head as the Rodians scurried off and it seemed that Carth was just as impressed by what they had seen.
            The young Twi’lek introduced herself as Mission Vao and her Wookie companion as Zaalbar.  She was the first friendly face they had encountered that day and she was happy to tell them all she knew about Davik Kang, who apparently owned a ship called the Ebon Hawk that might just be capable of outrunning the Sith ships that surrounded Taris.  Brinna’s interest quickened as Carth asked Mission if she had any idea where Davik might keep his ship.  Mission told them that it was most likely locked up on Davik’s estate and Brinna immediately began to do her best to think of ways to get to that estate but was unable to come up with anything.  According to Mission, Calo Nord was also working for Davik, apparently on some sort of special job.
            Mission gave them some more information about the swoop gangs, telling them the story of how Brejik, the leader of the Vulkars, had come into power in that gang after a falling out with Gadon Thek, the leader of the Hidden Beks.  She told them that she sometimes hung out at the Bek base and let them know that they might want to seek out Gadon.
              Brinna marveled as Mission told them her tale of how she and Zaalbar had hooked up.  It was obvious to Brinna that Mission had been forced to grow up much too quickly, though she sensed that it would be best not to say anything of the sort to Mission.  For as tough as Mission appeared to be, Brinna was certain that it couldn’t be easy for her to get by on Taris.  As she watched the Twi’lek and her Wookie friend walk out of the cantina, Brinna wished that there was something she could do to help the teen.
            “That poor kid,” Carth remarked.
            “I wonder what happened to her family,” Brinna said.  “I just can’t stand the thought of her being out there on her own like that, Wookie or no Wookie.”
            “At least she has the Wookie, though.  I hate to think of how much more difficult it would be for a kid like that to get by without him.”
            “This place is starting to depress me,” Brinna sighed.  “Come on.  I think we should try to find that Zax.  I’d be interested to know just what other bounties are floating around out there.”
            As they walked into the room where they had been told they could find Zax, Brinna caught sight of a desperate-looking Twi’lek female who seemed to be pleading with the Twi’lek male standing before her.  Curious, Brinna moved closer and heard the female begging the male to give her a chance to audition.  It seemed that she couldn’t audition without a partner and, due to Brinna’s inability to refrain from meddling in other people’s personal tragedies, she found herself volunteering to partner the Twi’lek.
            What am I doing? she asked herself as she handed her gear over to Carth.  He was eyeing her with obvious amusement and she shot him a warning look that only served to make him look even more amused.
            Brinna felt like a galaxy-class idiot as she fumbled her way through the audition with Lyn.  Carth was very quiet but she was convinced that was because he was doing his best to keep his laughter silent for fear of her wrath. 
            You and your stupid bleeding heart, she told herself as she made her way through the third dance of the audition.  To her relief, she had managed to do a decent job and an ecstatic Lyn was informed that she had made it.
            “Some thanks I got for that,” Brinna told Carth as she took her vibroblades back from him.  “I can’t believe she told me she was too good to talk to me anymore!”
            “I hadn’t realized that the Republic was recruiting dancers,” he remarked.
            “I should have known better than to agree to do that with you here,” she sighed.  “You’re never going to let me live that one down, are you?”
            “Probably not,” he told her.
            “You’re just jealous because you have no rhythm,” Brinna said, breaking down and allowing the absurdity of the situation to wash over her.
            “You could always teach me,” he said, in a strangled tone.  As she looked at him, she could see that his face was turning red from his efforts to control his laughter.
            “You are this close to the edge, buddy,” she said, holding her finger and her thumb a hair’s breadth apart.
            She walked away from him and approached Zax, who told her about the bounties both legal and otherwise that were out there.  Brinna was with Carth when he expressed his view that he’d rather not do Davik’s dirty work by carrying out his special contracts.
            From the cantina they went to the lower city apartments, where they ran into the victim of one of Davik’s special contracts, a Twi’lek by the name of Matrik.  When Matrik explained to them that he was on Davik’s list because he had helped provide evidence that put some of Davik’s goons in prison, Brinna agreed to help him stage his death so that he could try to escape Taris and Davik’s wrath.  She and Carth immediately set off for the upper city and Kebla Yurt’s shop, where Brinna hoped they would be able to find the permacrete detonator that Matrik needed.
            Brinna decided that it was high time to address Carth’s apparent trust issues with regard to her and she stopped him just before they entered the shop so that she could discuss it with him.  She wanted to scream in frustration as he informed her that he was not about to stop being wary because he wasn’t “built that way,” as he put it.  When she demanded to know why she deserved his hostility, he informed her that he’d been betrayed before and wasn’t about to let it happen again.
            She really lost it when he told her there was no need to take it personally and, once again, she found herself flinging insults at him to his apparent delight.  In spite of herself, she had to laugh, though this frustrated her even more.  She’d worked up a really good head of steam against him and it drove her crazy that he was the first person she’d ever met who was able to circumvent her anger by making her laugh.
            In the end, however, nothing was really resolved as he continued to maintain that he didn’t intend to ever trust anyone again.  She wanted to argue some more with him but he refused to continue the discussion and told her to pick it up later.
            Brinna fumed the whole time she was in Kebla’s shop buying the detonator and continued to fume as they made their way back to the lower city elevator.  It was fortunate for Carth that they ran into some poor Ithorian who was being harassed by a couple of evil human kids on their way.  She was able to redirect her frustration to the kids, driving them off and giving the Ithorian a medpac so that he could heal himself.  Carth tried to comment about what had just occurred but she refused to talk to him and ignored all attempts at conversation.
            Her mood improved once Matrik had blown up his apartment and thanked them for their help.  Carth might be driving her slowly crazy by directing his paranoia squarely at her but at least there were others who appreciated her efforts to help them.
            Their last stop of the day was the Hidden Bek base, though it was not easy getting inside or getting Gadon’s jumpy bodyguard Zaerdra to allow them to speak with him.  For the first time since they’d crashed on Taris, though, it seemed they were finally making progress.  Gadon told them that Bastila had been captured by Brejik who had enslaved her and was offering her as the prize in the big swoop race.  Better yet, Gadon told Brinna that he would sponsor her as a racer if she broke into the Vulkar base and recovered the Bek prototype swoop engine that the Vulkars had stolen.  It wasn’t what Brinna would call an ideal solution but it was the first real lead that they’d been able to find and it looked like it was their best chance for rescuing Bastila.
            To her surprise, Gadon told them that Mission Vao was their best bet for finding entry into the Bek base.  It seemed she spent so much time skulking around the undercity that she knew it better than anybody.  Brinna agreed to trade her Sith uniform to Gadon in exchange for papers that would enable her to get into the undercity.  She left him with the promise that the next time he saw her she’d be bringing his stolen engine back to him.
            “We’re finally making some progress,” Carth said as soon as they exited the base.  He sounded pleased.
            Brinna reluctantly decided that she had best start speaking to him again.  They had a lot of planning to do and she would just have to put aside her grudge for a while.
            “I think we should head for the undercity first thing tomorrow,” she told him.  “Between the rakghouls and the Vulkars, it sounds like we’re going to have our hands full.”
            Carth sighed.  “Nothing’s ever easy, is it?” he asked.
            “You ought to know.  You’re a pro at making things difficult,” she said, impetuously.
            “I try,” Carth said, lightly.
            “You don’t need to try.  You’re just naturally talented at it,” Brinna grumbled.
            “Look, if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll buy you dinner at the upper city cantina again,” he said.  He tried his best to adapt a serious expression but his mouth quirked at the corners, belying his little ruse.
            “Why didn’t we ask Mission to get us something good to eat from the Bek base?” Brinna asked, giving in and allowing Carth to once again dissolve her anger.
            “You know, I’m beginning to seriously suspect that what we ate last night was actually rancor masquerading as something different.”
            “Oh, did you have to say that?” Brinna groaned, doubling over and clutching her stomach.  “Just when I thought that food couldn’t get any worse you have to go and prove me wrong.”
            “Come on, we might as well give Javyar’s Cantina a try.  It can’t be as bad as what we ate last night, right?” he asked her.
            “One can only hope.”
            They sat down to dinner in the lower city cantina and, to their relief, the food was actually quite decent.  The mood between them was more relaxed as they ate and Brinna silently snickered at the thought that maybe Carth was simply like a moody three-year-old: feed him and he became much more agreeable.
            Brinna toyed with her necklace as Carth told her a story about the first time he’d piloted a ship.  He was very animated as he spoke about flying and Brinna listened to him with growing interest.  When he was finished, he flicked a gaze toward her necklace.
            “I’ve noticed you playing with that before.  It’s pretty unusual.  Where did you get it?” he asked.
            “I didn’t get it anywhere.  It came to me,” Brinna said, closing her eyes briefly as an unexpected wave of pain washed over her.  “See, I can be just as evasive as you,” she said, speaking as lightly as she was able.
            “I see that,” he replied, his tone just as light but with an unmistakable edge of tension to it.
            “Come on, it’s been a long day.  Let’s get back to the apartment.  And this time I’m taking watch first,” she told him.  He opened his mouth to protest and she held a hand up to stop him.  “You have to get some rest or you’ll be useless.”
            Neither of them spoke another word for the rest of the evening.  The tension between them had reappeared but this time it was Carth who had unconsciously provoked it.  As she sat in the dark apartment, Brinna found that she could not keep her hands off her necklace.  On the other side of the room, Carth feigned sleep, which only served to further irritate Brinna.  Surely he didn’t think he could go without sleeping for the duration of their mission?  Why did he have to be so damn mysterious anyway?  More importantly, why had she insisted on being mysterious right back?  She wasn’t exactly the type who gave her trust away for free but she was usually a lot more up front than she had been with Carth.
            It’s because you wanted to get back at him, a little voice told her.  She did her best to ignore it but it didn’t give her a moment’s peace the whole night.